Why Retinal Stem Cells may be the Key to Important Medical Developments

Stems cells are cells that start as a basic blank slate. They can grow and develop into several different types of cells depending on the factors that influence them. Stem cells that come from the retina pigment epithelium can be used to produce not only retinal cells but other cells throughout the body.

Research that has taken place in cloning has shown that retinal stem cells when exposed to specific factors and conditions can develop neural offspring. Studies have shown that these cells have definite value in various replacement therapies and the development of disease. 

Martin Friedlander, MD, is a professor of cell biology. His studies, performed at the Scripps Research Institute of LaJolla, CA, imply that a person who suffers from retinitis pigmentosa may benefit from the use of transplanted retinal pigment epithelial stem cells. Friedlander has found that when RPESCs were transplanted into mice, their vision was preserved for up to six months after treatment.

Macular degeneration may also be treated with the use of stem cells. Macular degeneration that is related to a person’s age impacts the lives of almost 20% of people over the age of 65. For all of the treatments available for age-related macular degeneration patients, none can stop the progression of vision loss. It’s believed that the use of retinal pigment epithelial stem cells may prevent the loss of vision due to macular degeneration.Studies are being performed on how stem cells can impact regenerative medicine. Regenerative medicine works to restore function in cases where their is chronic diseases or severe injuries. Patients with spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, osteoporosis and congestive heart failure may all benefit from tests that show the regenerative properties of stem cells.

Retinal pigment epithelium stem cells or RPESCs are a thin cell made of a matrix similar to plastic. They can differentiate early on but rarely change after later stages of development. Stem cells can continue to reproduce in an undefined state. They continually renew themselves which allows for a continued supply of cells that can be used in regenerative therapies. Retinal pigment epithelium stem cells are unique in that they do not have to come from unborn embryos. They can be taken from anyone, no matter what age.

Stem cell research has been ongoing for years. Amidst controversy over stem cells taken from embryos, the research has continued using other types of stem cells, including those taken from the retina. With stem cells that are available from sources other than fetal tissue, the research on how they can impact regenerative medicine will continue.